Tech school's new leader an example for students to follow

Jeff Sweda

Jeff Sweda, executive director of the Upper Bucks County Technical School.

By Gary Weckselblatt

If you were to build an executive director for a technical school, Jeff Sweda might be the optimum prototype.

The Upper Bucks County Technical School's new leader is a graduate of Hazleton Senior High School and Hazleton Area Vocational Technical School, where he excelled in both academic and vocational education, while also working for Marchetti Plumbing and Heating as he became dual certified in plumbing and HVAC.

That's on top of playing high school football and wrestling. Sweda later played semi-pro football for the Pottstown Bandits, wrestled at Millersville University, coached high school wrestling and was elected to the Hazleton Area Sports Hall of Fame for his prowess as a grappler.

He earned a degree in education from Temple University, where he also received his vocational directors certificate and K-through-12 certification. Sweda has a masters of education in curriculum and instruction from Bloomsburg University.

"I'm a living example of what vocational education can do for you if you have the drive," he said. "I can speak to students about the path they need to take. I can speak to parents about what their students need to do to succeed. I went through it. We definitely want our kids today to have the opportunity to take or participate in all of the college prep classes, as well as learn a trade at our school.

"They can be business owners, they can be CEOs of companies. There are so many avenues our students can partake in. We want to send that message to everybody."

Sweda, who spent the last four years as principal at Schuylkill Technology Center, succeeds Bernard Wagenseller, who retired in June after six years as the school's top administrator.

UBCTS, with about 750 students, draws from the three Upper Bucks districts, Quakertown Community, Palisades and Pennridge. Nearly half of the students are from Quakertown.

The district's numbers expanded after Dr. Bill Harner, the district's superintendent, pushed for the inclusion of ninth graders in career and technical education. Part of his reasoning was to open the door to CTE opportunities at an earlier stage, and help students in the transition to another school.

Harner, the superintendent of record for UBCTS for the next two years, said Sweda "has years of experience, both in the classroom and in administration. I'm really looking forward to him building on what the former director has done, and taking UBCTS to the next level."

Before becoming a teacher in the Hazleton Area School District, at the Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School, and Temple, Sweda spent 11 years as a facilities maintenance supervisor for Bethlehem Steel.

But his love of education kept tugging at him, and when an opportunity presented itself to get back into the classroom, he jumped.

"I always liked my teachers, and wanted to be a teacher," he said.

In Hazleton, Sweda had a guidance counselor who recommended he pair his academic workload with vocational training. And Sweda remembers the words of his dad: "If you learn a trade and work with your hands, you'll never go hungry."

"I've had the best of both worlds," he said.

Sweda said today's students have increased job opportunities as employers seek employees who are well-trained and educated.

"It's not like when our parents went to school," he said. "Our kids are working on state-of-the-art equipment every single day they're here. Have you walked into a car dealership recently? It's clean, and the technology is unbelievable. That's what we have here. What's out there in industry is here in our labs."

With a background that highlights an ability to work well with others to build a strong organization, Sweda said his transition is "going very well" with his administrative team and he plans to reach out to the area's business industry for its support.

"This is a community building," he said. "We want both the community and our students to be comfortable here." feel This is a friendly building where our students will be comfortable, have fun and learn."

Gary Weckselblatt, director of communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or gweckselblatt@qcsd.org.

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